Former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government has received has a direct order from the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, in a landmark judgement which says, “provide information on the spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion which represents some accrual income to the Federal Government during the last four years of the Administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.”
Hon. Justice Ibrahim Buba delivered the Judgment last week, following a Freedom of Information suit number FHC/L/CS/196/2015 brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The law suit by SERAP was triggered by the revelations from former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Charles Soludo, who disclosed that at least N30 trillion has either been embezzled, unaccounted for, or grossly mismanaged over the last few years under the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s watch.
According to Justice Buba, Mrs Iweala and FG have no legally justifiable reason not to provide SERAP with the requested information. Buba said:
“The Court has gone through the application and agrees that SERAP’s application has merits and the argument is not opposed. SERAP’S application is granted as prayed.”
The Court accepted the arguments by deputy director of SERAP, Olukayode Majekodunmi, that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government should have either supplied the information requested by SERAP or communicate her denial within 7 days of receipt of the letter from SERAP if she considers that the request should be denied. Justice Buba continued:
“Preliminary objection by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government is misconceived, the court upholds the arguments by SERAP for the reasons stated herein,”
“He who wants equity must do equity. This suit was filed on 25 February 2015 and from the record of the court was served on Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government on 3rd July, 2015. It took about 3 months for them to come up with technical response to the simple request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2011.”
“Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government have therefore been caught by Order 29 of the Rules of this Court, which requires that an application shall be made within 21 days after service on the Defendants of the originating summons.”
“If Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government want to raise issues about service, the law does not permit of demurer. The proper route for them should have been to join issues with the originating summons and also file their objections. In the present case by SERAP, the Notice of Preliminary Objection by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government is incurably defective for not conforming to order 29 of the Rules of this Court.”
“The implication of this clear provision of the rule of court is that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government must join issues with SERAP on the originating summons no matter how flimsy, instead of looking for a technical way out. This technical way out has failed.”
“The concept of demurer as presently raised by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government is no longer known to law especially the Federal High Court of Nigeria. It is the position of the law that the application of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government should fail. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government, having failed to file Counter Affidavit to SERAP’s suit, are deemed to have forfeited that option of filing anything again.”
“Having shown why the Application by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government should be dismissed for failing to join issues with SERAP, the originating process must be moved on the merits.”
“The main issue in this Court’s view bothers on the legal binding obligation imposed on Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act access to a record of information requested for. In the case at hand, SERAP through its letter of 2 February 2015, Exhibit A, sought the information relating to the spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion, which represents some accrual income to the Federal Government during the last 4 years of the Administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Exhibit A has been received by them, and Exhibit B is the acknowledgement of receipt of Exhibit A.”
“However Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government have since the receipt of the request letter failed, refused and or neglected to provide SERAP with the information it requested for within their custody. They should have either supplied the information requested by SERAP or communicate their denial within 7 days of receipt of the application from SERAP if it considers that the application should be denied.”
This law suit was filed since February 2015 against Mrs Okonjo-Iweala over failure to provide information about spending of the alleged missing N30tn, which represents some accrual income to the Federal Government in the past four years.
In a statement from SERAP executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, he acknowledge the Court’s judgment which support Nigeria’s efforts to promote transparency in government and combat corruption and the impunity of perpetrators.
“This judgement also confirms that high-ranking government officials can no longer escape accountability for their action while in office. We urge Mrs Okonjo-Iweala to cooperate with the authorities in the efforts to ensure the full and effective enforcement of the judgment.”